ORINDA -- Patricia Rudebusch, this community's 2013 Citizen of the Year, believes citizenship in a free world is a privilege and a responsibility.

Critically important to maintaining balance in a community, she places education at the forefront. With 12 years on the Orinda School Board and support work with the Educational Foundation of Orinda and Friends of the Orinda Library under her belt, Rudebusch loves learning.

"I recently took up botanical illustration," she says, in an interview before the March 15 dinner celebrating her contributions. "I hadn't picked up a pencil or drawn anything in 30 years!"

It's a typical scenario for Rudebusch -- land serendipitously on an idea, research the terrain, embark on an exploratory journey, change lives.

"I'm a beginner, but I've learned to be a more keen observer," she says. "Now, I find myself stopping in the grocery store because I see an apple and think, 'I have to draw that!' "

Growing up in Chicago, Rudebusch attended Northwestern University and eventually arrived in Washington, D.C., where she provided fundraising and board development for PBS. Married 25 years this June, she and her husband Glenn have two children in college.

"I went to Catholic schools through eighth grade, then public schools for high school. My high school had a rich tradition of languages, politics, literature and a variety of courses to allow students to develop their individual interests. It influenced my desire to be involved in the school board."

Rudebusch says most people, other than close friends, would be surprised to learn she was -- and remains -- "painfully shy." Her least favorite day as a student was the first day, when one-on-one introductions were excruciating.

"I just had to get over it," she laughs, "but even now, it's easier for me to talk to a large group about pups than it is to talk to someone at a party."

The "pups" she refers to are harbor seal pups she introduces to enormous crowds of observers at the Marine Mammal Center on the Marin County coast.

"When my youngest was a senior in high school, I realized I needed to find something to occupy my time. It's the largest marine rescue organization in the world. It just spoke to my heart. I started out as a docent, giving tours to the public and school groups," she explains.

We can all keep the oceans safe, she suggests, describing how human "interaction" often means one- to two-day old pups are separated from their mothers. At the center, she makes "famous fish milkshakes," introduces pups to pools of water and hand feeds them fish. After three months, the healthy pups are released back into the wild.

School board meetings sometimes were "wild," she admits, but a 2000 millennial resolution she made often helped her remain above the fray.

"There's an ancient Greek philosopher, Epictetus, who said something like 'surround yourself with those who are uplifting and who bring out your best,' " she paraphrases.

The exact quote -- "The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best" -- isn't far off and internalizing the message, Rudebusch says, kept her from "getting sucked into the mire" of budget cut debates.

"In every case, conflicts are best resolved when people listen. I could reach better, clearer decisions when emotions were running high.

But mostly, as Rudebusch remembers her three four-month terms on the board (she retired in November of 2012), she recalls three C's -- camaraderie, commitment and a spirit of collaboration.

"If you're going to be on the school board, you devote a tremendous amount of mental and emotional energy. I enjoyed it and worked with fabulous people," she says. "I left simply because it was time. I had given all I could."

"Retirement" will be busy. Rudebusch is on Berkeley's UC Botanical Garden's board, continues to docent at the Marine Mammal Center, enjoys the calming, centering effect of knitting and cooks pasta in such a way that her children, now off at school, keep her "nest" from emptying.

"I'm planing to stay informed, active and contributive," she predicts. "That's a collective responsibility we all share."

Dinner for Pat Rudebusch
WHEN: Friday, March 15; no-host cocktails 6 p.m., dinner starts at 7
COST: $45 (including wine), with a choice of prime rib, chicken picatta or vegetarian
RESERVATIONS: Call 925-254-7766 or stop by in person at the Park Place Office, at 18 Orinda Way.
The award is sponsored by The Rotary Club of Orinda and the Lamorinda Sun